Australian government may act on spam

A government report has recommended that the Australian government acts against junk email, although it is pessimistic about whether the measures can succeed

The Australian National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) has recommended the introduction of anti-spamming laws, while simultaneously playing down their potential benefits in a report released on Wednesday.

The 46-page study states that the negative effects of spam include losses in productivity, bandwidth and the exposure of users to pornographic material and fraudulent scams.

"There is a growing demand for some form of specific legislation by the Commonwealth with regard to spam," read the report. "However, national legislation per se is not a comprehensive answer to the problem.

"Australia should therefore pursue a spam reduction strategy which balances regulatory, self-regulatory, technical and consumer information elements".

The proposed legislation would see a ban imposed on unsolicited electronic messaging, unless there was a pre-existing business-customer relationship between the two parties. Furthermore, all commercial electronic messaging would have to contain accurate details of the sender's identity, including a physical address.

Co-regulation is also a big theme in the report, which urges cooperation between government agencies and industry.

"A co-regulatory model, involving industry participation and codes of practice working in concert with the relevant legislation has worked well in the past, for example in relation to online gambling, and offensive and illegal content," it said.

Although spam is a phenomenon with "few obvious redeeming qualities", this isn't what makes it an issue of public policy, according to NOIE's manager of online policy, Lindsay Barton.

"Just because everybody hates it, doesn't mean that it's a matter of public policy... why is it now suddenly or not suddenly a matter in which we should be getting involved? Well for one thing, there's a lot of it," Barton told attendees at an anti-spam seminar today. "The sheer volume of spam is really major a problem today for the Internet, and it is only going to get worse. Therefore we have the Internet... being deteriorated by this particular menace".

NOIE has even cast its own doubts on the potential impact of any new legislation. Its report cites the results of spam law implementations in other countries.

"The scope and nature of the problem on a global scale has not, to date, been significantly reduced by legislative and regulatory measures.

"As with the Interactive Gambling Act, legislation may act to reduce or slow down problem activities whilst acknowledging that the global nature of the Internet makes complete control impossible," the report said.

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